UPDATED, March 10, 2011 — Oscar Biscet will be released "within hours," according to reports.
Can you imagine a major U.S. television news program — say, the "Today" show — going to South Africa in the 1980s and not reporting on the horrors of apartheid?
Can you imagine a major U.S. television news program — say, the "Today" show — going to South Africa in the 1980s and not profiling Nelson Mandela, at the time, the country's most famous political prisoner?
Can you imagine a major U.S. television news program — say the "Today" show — going to South Africa in the 1980s and not talking with South Africans about how Mandela, even from behind bars, offered them the hope of a better, freer future?
No, you cannot, because it did not happen that way. Maybe it wasn't the "Today" show specifically, but I remember from the '80s, report after report about the systemic repression in South Africa of the majority black population, and the constant harranguing of U.S. policy toward the white racist regime. Those reports helped shape American public opinion and eventually, a change in American policy that, at least indirectly, evenutally lead to freedom for all South Africans.
Might it happen again in Cuba?
I'm skeptical. This time around, the media's sympathies are not with the oppressed — the Cuban people — but the oppressors in the dictatorship, who in the twisted morality of some in the MSM, are worthy of respect for how they up to the Americans. They just don't "get" the plight of Cubans, they don't "get" that it is the same as, if not worse than, what South Africans endured for too many years.
But if Matt Lauer this week just opens his eyes and looks for the great untold story of the counter-revolution, he will find Cuba's Mandela, and the hopes for a better, freer future for all Cubans.
His name is Oscar Elias Biscet.
The best known Cuban political prisoner is Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, who during the "black spring" of 2003 was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The prosecution was the most severe of several Biscet had to endure since 1986, when he first publicly declared himself an opponent of the dictatorship. Barely a month before he was last arrested, Biscet had completed a 3-year prison sentence for, among other "crimes," displaying the Cuban flag upside down.
Before he was imprisoned, Biscet opposed the regime on several fronts:
— In 1986, a year after he graduated from medical school, he protested the long hours Cuban doctors have to work without pay.
— In 1997, Biscet started the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights and conducted a secret 10-month study of Cuban abortion techniques that found, among other things, that many babies were killed after being born alive. In February 1998, Biscet was kicked out of the Cuban National Health System, making it impossible for him to work as a physician.
— During Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba in January 1998, activists with the Lawton Foundation publicly demonstrated for the release of Cuban political prisoners.
— From June 7 to July 16, 1999, the Lawton Foundation lead a 40-day liquid fast to demand the release of political prisoners and to draw attention to the human rights situation on the island.
By the end of 1999, the dictatorship had had enough. On Nov. 3, he was arrested and eventually sentenced to 3 years in prison for the so-called crimes of "dishonoring national symbols" — that is, displaying the Cuban flag upside down — "public disorder," and "inciting delinquent behavior.
Biscet finished his sentence in late 2002, but only 36 days later was arrested again while preparing to meet with a group of human rights activists. After several months in jail, Biscet was formally charged with being a threat to state security and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Perhaps it is overstating it to compare Biscet with Mandela, who during his decades in a South African prison was around whom opponents of apartheid rallied. But like Mandela — and most other Cuban political prisoners — Biscet recognizes that his struggle for freedom is not his alone, but for and by the entire Cuban nation.
I am glad a show like "Today" and a high profile American journalist like Matt Lauer are going to Cuba. The situation in Cuba is deserving of that kind of attention.
What is frustrating is that he will miss the real story about Cuba.
What is frustrating is the likelihood that Lauer will only rehash the old, somewhat tired debate about the effects of the U.S. embargo, and not look at Cuba through the eyes of Cubans suffering, praying, dying for liberty.
That he will not look at Cuba through the eyes of of a dissident, through the eyes of a freedom fighter, through the eyes of someone like Oscar Elias Biscet.
Biscet laid out his vision for Cuba in a "declaration of principles," which you can read below the fold. (You can also read a letter in which Biscet implores Cubans, on and off the island, to set aside their differences over tactics and to unite in common purpose on the same path to liberty.)
One of the surest indicators of the repressive nature of the Castro regime is the jailing of more than 300 political prisoners. To illustrate that reality, Uncommon Sense each week profiles one prisoner. There also is a Political Prisoner archive on the left sidebar. To suggest a prisoner for a profile, send me an e-mail.
For profiles of imprisoned Cuban journalists and related information, read the March 18 Project.
Declaration of Principles of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet
1. We demand the Unconditional freedom of the people of Cuba under a multi-party System of government democratically elected at all levels and with complete guarantee of freedom of expression for all, including the governments’ detachment from the country’s means of communication.
2. The repeal of the illegitimate communist constitution of 1976 and the establishment of a Sovereign Constitutional Assembly to draw amendments to the Democratic Constitution of 1940, including the absolute adhesion to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations and the abolition of the death penalty. These amendments should be ratified by the elected representatives.
3. The establishment of a state that will guarantee equality to all citizens before the Law, without discrimination based on race, sex, ethnic group, or religious beliefs and which will end the System of oppression and apartheid established under the communist regime.
4. The dissolution of all political, propagandistic, and repressive organizations created by the communist regime since January, 1959 with an emphasis on the development of independent civic institutions that will forge democracy for the new society.
5. Unconditional and immediate amnesty for all political prisoners.
6. Free access to Cubans and their children, who live outside the country, to enter and cave the country at will with the same citizen rights as those who live inside the Country.
7. The compromise to fund a first-rate free educational system, with no political orientation. Also a basic health system that can be afforded by the poorest ones.
8. The recognition of private property and free enterprise as the main pillars, to pursue the economic well-being of the country together with a guarantee to of workers of their right to organize independent labor unions that will promote collective interests.
9. The restructuring of the armed forces and its strict isolation from the economic and political activities and responsibilities of the country.
10. Once democracy has been established, lobby for the elimination of the United States commercial embargo and for the opening to foreign economic assistance until Cuba can establish a base for its economic rehabilitation.
To my fellow Cubans, wherever you find yourselves, whether in our enslaved island, or in exile in any part of the world. I include also those descendents of Cubans born in other lands. To all of you I send my warmest and sincere greetings.
Our efforts to achieve the unconditional liberty of our nation will soon become reality. I do not need to reveal details to communicate what among Cubans is common knowledge. We suffer not from division or fragmentation in our principles, but rather in which methods to use. We do not lack unity in ideals, but only in the methods to be applied to obtain our liberty. Unfortunately, these insignificant differences of opinion have given room for division among exile leaders and dissidents inside Cuba. These differences have given oxygen to the flames of the most recent and dangerous obstacle that we confront.
I refer to the movement for complacency. A movement that intends to make Cubans -- faithful lovers of liberty-- believe that they should applaud and be content to receive only small doses of liberty. A movement that suggests that Cubans do not deserve full liberty, but only small dosages of it. This movement of low expectations unites with speculation that other fragments of liberty and democracy will automatically follow. This thoughtless movement does not claim for Cubans internationally recognized basic human rights, it only suggests them. It does not claim the democratic rights of the violated Constitution of 1940, but opts instead for the framework of the illegitimate Communist constitution of 1976. That constitution is nothing more than an instrument of oppression, a malevolent document whose only purpose is to justify the totalitarian and ill-formulated state. It is an illegal aberration that has permitted and even encouraged the imprisonment, torture and execution of political opponents without even the minimal legal rights or a defense. An atheist abomination that has only served those who enslave our nation.
To those who feel exhausted after more than 40 years of constant oppression and of unfruitful efforts. To those whose frustrations and discontent have caused them to lose their moral compass. To those who have concluded that we must appease the oppressor. To them I ask:
Is it acceptable to the memory of the thousands of young Cubans, our best sons, who were executed by firing squads for the simple crime of defending our right to full liberty, to now accept complacency? Do those tens of thousands of compatriots who spent decades in prison, and who are still in a prison system whose horrors we can only imagine, deserve only partial liberty? Do those countless families who were separated from their loved ones and destroyed in the process, or those who have perished at sea, or who have died in exile dreaming of returning to their country, deserve that we now accept the crumbs that we are being offered? Shall we accept defeat after nearly a half a century of patriotic heroism in search of liberty and democracy, or shall we show the world that the most brutal and longest lasting dictatorship in our time could not extinguish the unbreakable spirit of liberty of the Cubans?
I must tell you that we have reached a crossroad in our history. Nearly a half a century ago we as a nation confronted a similar historical decision. In those days many accepted the fateful words that circulate again today: "anything would be better than what we already have." They were mistaken then and they are mistaken now. Tragically, more than forty years of our national nightmare have elapsed to find ourselves again with the same question, and with the opportunity to correct our mistakes and make ourselves truly the owners of our own destiny.
I call for the unity of all my compatriots. There exists only one path before us. A path that unites us and includes all Cubans inside and outside the island of Cuba. A path that claims the rights of the citizenry in its entirety. A path that demands full democracy and the unconditional freedom of the Cuban people under a multiparty system of government, democratically elected through free general elections. A path where the Rule of Law is established and which guarantees equality under the law, without distinction of races, sex or religious creed. A path that brings about an unconditional and immediate amnesty to all political prisoners.
Fellow Cubans, let us take a step forward and let us do it in a clear and decisive manner. The work awaiting us is difficult but not impossible. Together we can achieve for our country the genuine democracy deserved by Cuba's citizens.
Finally, to the leaders of the democratic states of the world, to the American people, and in particular to the President of the United States, George W. Bush, we ask only one simple commitment: do not support or promote any solution or accord regarding the future of the Cuban nation that you would not consider acceptable for your own country.
May God illuminate us in our path for the liberty of Cuba.
Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet